Biologists can now design genetic systems that engineer evolution in powerful ways with social, legal, ethical and environmental implications for our future. Mosquito populations can already be engineered using cutting edge techniques to drastically reduce their numbers or make them resistant to transmitting diseases like malaria, dengue or the emerging zika virus.
Synthetic biologist Dr Kevin Esvelt (MIT Media Lab) will introduce his work on gene drive systems which rapidly spread malaria resistance within populations while Professor Luke Alphey (Pirbright Institute) will discuss his work founding Oxitec, a UK company that was the first to release genetically modified male mosquitoes whose offspring fail to reproduce, leading to dramatic reductions in numbers.
What safeguards and regulations are required to ensure responsible use of such technologies? What does it mean for humans to use nature’s tools in this way? How do we balance the direct benefits for global health with any risks to our shared environment?